Anatomy of a Necktie

In an older post I’ve talked about my latest commission, which is the making of a quilt using a person’s old neckties. I must say there is a lot more to a simple necktie that meets the eye. That is why I have chosen to name this post, “anatomy of a necktie.” Why would I dedicate an entire blog post to talk about this seemingly pedestrian subject? Because the more I work with these ties, the more fascinated I’ve become with the whole process behind the making of a necktie.

First, there is the outside layer, the “pretty” part, which usually consists of a piece of cloth, sometimes silk, sometimes wool or cashmere, polyester, rayon or cotton, in beautiful and colorful designs. This is part that everybody sees, the PR department of the tie, so to speak. It is the “shell.”

Then there is the inside, the part that nobody sees, but a most important and crucial element of the tie. It is the “backstage.” It is what gives the tie structure and shape.

The inside part is composed of one or two layers of what is called the “interlining,” a piece of cloth that is cut like the finished shape of the tie; this is the piece that provides the tie its stability and shape. A word of interest: after taking apart dozens and dozens of ties, I came to realize that there is a lot to be said about the importance of workmanship and materials in a finished product, in this case a necktie. It is the difference between a beautiful and elegant piece of garment, and a rougher, cheaper one. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Some of the ties I deconstructed had a beautifully soft interlining, probably brushed wool, while others–of lesser quality–were made of a much rougher and open-weaved material, almost burlap-y in texture. Needless to say, the first ones were the ones that sported the more exclusive designer labels; but more on that later.

Then there are the pieces that go on the inside of the tips at both ends of the tie. These are pieces of cloth, sometimes of the same material as the front, or a similar one of lesser quality–again this depends on the quality of the tie itself– that are sewn at both ends; this is called “tipping.” Another aspect of quality is whether or not the tippings are hand sewn or serged or machine sewn.

The entire tie is held together with slip stitching, usually hand done with a length of thread, usually silk, or polyester–again, depending on quality–that runs the entire length of the tie.
Another piece of construction that is hidden from plain sight, but placed on the outer part, on the tail that goes underneath the “blade,” or wider (front) part, is the label. It is of much importance, because it is where the “telling” takes place, most of the time. The label indicates the manufacturer, brand, and/or designer of the tie. Labels are the first line of “defense,” so to speak in determining the quality of the tie, since it is practically impossible to take a closer look at the workmanship without taking the whole thing apart. (I don’t think the retailer would appreciate a customer doing this before deciding which tie to buy.)

Some ties also have what is called a “keeper loop.” This is a tab placed right above (or below) the label that the wearer can use to place the tail of the tie through–after knotting–to keep it out of sight. I noticed the existence of this feature mostly in the more expensive-looking ties, sort of as an “add-on,” not part of your “basic model.”

Some ties also have another smaller label, usually at the end of the smaller tip, that contains laundering instructions and other useful information.

As I’ve said many times before, I like working on these unconventional projects, because I always take useful learnings from them. Each challenge is another opportunity to problem-solve in creative ways. This project provided the opportunity to utilize some skills I hadn’t used before, and also was a learning experience in the art of necktie construction and design.

Also, after each tie I took apart, a picture started emerging of the person that the ties belonged to. It’s very fascinating how that happens, because you don’t even have to talk to anybody or consult other sources, and suddenly you have a picture of a person in your mind. I can understand how archaeologists can form a picture of the type of people whose belongings they are digging just by digging up the stuff and putting it into some kind of context. I feel I got a clear picture of the personality of the person who wore these ties, and it was fun to discover each new thing that would complete the picture.

Conquering Mitered Corners

Since I’ve never been one to take “the high road” in quilting, I’ve always tried to avoid those things that I consider to be too difficult to deal with, particularly when there are easier alternatives to achieve similar results. Such is the case of mitered corners. Most of my quilts have borders that are squared off at the corners. Mitered corners have always scared me, so I’ve avoided them like the plague (well, almost).
Once I was faced with a project that required mitered corners, so I found myself struggling to master this techniIMG_20120623_092440cally challenging skill. The project in question was a set of dish towels made of flour sack material to which I was attaching quilt blocks from my leftover pile. I read articles, how-to’s, watched YouTube videos, watched the pros demonstrating it, but I couldn’t quite wrap my arms around this technique. So after a lot of trial and error, I finally figured out an alternative way of doing it. I can’t say I was 100% pleased with the results, but at least I finished the project.
Later in my quilting life, I’ve had many opportunities to tackle this and other challenging techniques; some of them will probably be “one of’s,” meaning I’ll probably never attempt them again, but nothing is ever a waste of time. There is always something to be learned. And learn I have!
Mitered corners – conquered!
I have finally conquered mitered corners, and I am happy to say that they are not a threat anymore.

Asheville’s Guild 2015 Quilt Show

Bele Chere from Asheville Guidebook

Thirty-four years ago, a handful of hardworking quilting mamas got together to show off some quilts at the third annual Bele Chere festival, that behemoth party whose purpose in being spawned by various bygone members of the Asheville City Council was to revitalize Asheville’s lovely but ailing downtown. Little did they know that this small meeting would spawn the biggest and one of the most prestigious, quilting guilds and quilt show in the nation, even outliving the seeminly eternal 3-day block party that marked its beginnings. It’s also hard to think that this was at the time in my life when, some 5,000 miles away in South America, my youngest child was soon to turn 3. 

Yet here we are, thirty-three years later, only recently recovering from yet another Asheville Quilt Show, hosted and cooked up by us, the valiant members of the Asheville Quilt Guild. Like Bele Chere, the show is a 3-day quilting extravaganza with vendors, contests, demonstrations, silent auctions, shows, cash prizes… anything that the quilt maven requires. And also like Bele Chere, the grueling torturous hard work to pull it off, and then to clean up after it’s done, is an effort that leads exasperated volunteers to say every year “ENOUGH! NO MORE!”

Judging Day

But in the end it is such a fun event, and so profitable, not just for the Asheville Quilt Guild but for preserving the art of quiltmaking, period, that we persist, year after year, and most likely will, as long as there is a group of artisans in Asheville who like to create, show off, and promote quilts.

“The Harvest of Quilts” ran from October 2 through 5 this past weekend. Even though I did not participate by displaying a quilt this year, I volunteered a good chunk of my time for the past few weeks, and during the event itself, to get the show going before and after the show.

This quilt show holds true prestige in the quilting world. When you mention the Asheville Quilt show to any quilter within the continental U.S. and beyond, even to some of the heavyweights with their own TV shows and longstanding clientele, chances are they will know about the show and even have had occasion to participate at least once. The show is so popular that some quilters join the Asheville Quilt Guild from other states, without having set foot in Western North Carolina, just for the edge that membership gives attendees. This just goes to show how much they value it. The show has gotten more popular, and grown bigger every year. We had entries from all over the country and some from Mexico and Canada. The folks who entered quilts are artists in the full sense of the word; some of the pieces displayed simply cannot be believed.  Some of the work you see there is superb.

This show is a great source of income for the Asheville Quilting Guild, and all the work it does to promote the art, craft, and marketing of quilts and quilting-related products. The funds not only pay for next year’s event – venue, prize fund, judges’ fees, etc – but also help pay for special Asheville Quilt Guild speakers’ fees, special educational programs, and the inevitable expenses that come from running such an established, successful guild. For instance, the new and much-needed updated website, a new quilt hanging system, and a new PA system, are all projects that have been funded thanks to past successful quilt shows.

I don’t think that 33 years ago, any of the original Quilt Guild members, who first met one sunny day in Asheville’s most notorious festival, could have predicted that we would be going strong to this day. Some of the original members are still around, and I wonder how often they look back to that long-ago summer day, to see how far things have come.